WAT Presents: The Future is Female!
Updated: Jul 28
Michelle Obama, Meghan Markle, Priyanka Chopra, and Hilary Clinton are some of the amazing women that spoke at the recent 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit. Starting July 13, the three-day virtual summit brought together movers and shakers from around the globe committed to gender equality to discuss girls' future.
Girl Up is an initiative founded by the United Nations Foundation. Since 2010, Girl Up has been working to give girls the resources and platform to start a social change movement wherever they are. It is a global movement of empowered young women leaders who defend gender equality.
Girl Up has been hosting Leadership Summits in Washington, D.C. since 2012. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summit took place virtually, allowing over 40,000 girls and world leaders from across the oceans to come together and connect online. With the theme "We Need to Talk," Girl Up hopes to push the conversation about intersectional gender equality and find solutions to issues like gender-based violence, homelessness, education inequity, etc.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a special message on behalf of the Girls Opportunity Alliance, an Obama Foundation program that seeks to empower adolescent girls worldwide through education. In her speech, Michelle addressed the disruptive impact of COVID-19 on girls' education across the globe. However, she said that girls "have shown incredible resilience" in crises like this and that the world needs their effort now more than ever.
Michelle also pointed out that "the struggles that many girls already face are worsened in times like these." Domestic violence, child marriage, teen pregnancy, etc., are only some of the challenges made even starker by the global pandemic. Beyond all these, many girls may also lose their access to education. The Malala Fund predicts that 10 million girls of secondary school age will not be able to return to their classrooms even after the pandemic ends.
"We can't let these girls be forgotten," Michelle said because when girls are given the opportunity to learn, they are given the power to make a change in the world. She praised Girl Up clubs' effort to serve their global community during this pandemic, making face masks in Mexico to set up online learning platforms in Malawi. At the end of her speech, Michelle tells the girls, "you're not just tomorrow's leaders; you're already the leaders of today."
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex and former actress, joined the Girl Up Leadership Summit to empower girls from all over the world. In her speech, she told the girls that they are "setting the tone for an equitable humanity." "This is a humanity that desperately needs you," the Duchess said, encouraging girls to push lawmakers and world leaders in a more just, inclusive, and empathetic direction.
Girl Up girls have always been at the forefront of social movements. They are organizing Black Lives Matter protests all over the world, amplifying the voices of underprivileged communities, and pushing debates on criminal justice, climate change, gun violence, and many more. Meghan encourages these young changemakers to keep challenging the status quo because those in positions of power will not change unless they have to. "Keep pushing, make them a little uncomfortable, because it's only in that discomfort that we actually create the conditions to reimagine our standards, our policies, and our leadership," Meghan says.
Moreover, she points out that young people don't have to be satisfied with the current speed of change, addressing that the progress of social change is, paradoxically, "both aided and impaired by our digital space." Generation Z often referred to as the digital natives, are asked to use their online platforms to build each other up and spread positivity with their voices. To do so, Meghan listed some of the influential women that can inspire from Generation Z.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and WNBA star Maya Moore are just two examples. "We have to speak up for ourselves, and we have to speak out for others who struggle to be heard." To close out her speech, Meghan urges the girls to do what's right for their communities and honor their conviction and compassion.
Priyanka Chopra Jones, actress, singer, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and a good friend of Meghan Markle's, was also among the impressive speaker line-up. Unlike Michelle and Meghan, who sent their pre-recorded special message, Priyanka delivered her speech live.
The theme of her speech, "resilience and leadership in the face of adversity," resonated with all. Priyanka started with a story about an Indian girl she met named Sadhna, who came from a family in extreme poverty and ended up supporting her own family and helping many other girls achieve financial independence through the profitable business she started. By refusing to be a victim of the circumstances that she was born into, Sadhna displayed excellent leadership and took control of her own life.
"In every change lies an opportunity to reinvent yourself," Priyanka used this quote by her father to motivate girls to start a ripple effect of social change by investing in themselves. Growing up in a small town in India, Priyanka had big dreams deemed by many, unachievable for a girl. However, with the support of her family and the confidence to believe that she could accomplish anything she set her mind to, Priyanka took charge of her future and made an impact in the broader world.
Now, as an influential advocate for gender equality and female empowerment, she tells the girls to start making a difference with "heart, drive, and commitment." At the end of her speech, Priyanka asks the audience to be aware of their privileges and use them to help girls silenced by society. "No act is too small, no age is too young, and when we rise up together, amazing things can happen."
Images are courtesy of Girl Up
Written by Aria Young
Aria Young is a19-year-old American-Chinese youth activist and an intern at Women's Adventure Travels. She has been involved with UN Foundation - Girl Up since 2018 and served as a Teen Advisor, Class of 2019-2020. Aria is also a member of the Young Leaders Task Force at Girl Rising, the Co-Founder/Executive Director at Asians Lead, and a Global Outreach Associate at Dream Equal, Inc. She is an incoming first-year student at New York University with interests in journalism, TV broadcasting, theater producing, and acting.